St. Gregory Church Courtyard Dedicated to Late Pastor

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.—One year after his death, the indomitable spirit of Rev. Vartan Kassabian continues to hover over St. Gregory Church like an old, rugged cross.

Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan presides over the consecration of a memorial honoring the late Rev. Vartan Kassabian in the new courtyard of St. Gregory Church in North Andover. (Left) Megerdich “Mgo” Kassabian, the late pastor’s son, serves as a stole-bearer.

Dozens turned out March 7 for his Hokehankist, during which a courtyard was consecrated in his honor. Presiding over the memorial tribute was His Grace Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan.

“Der Vartan was the man of his people,” said the Prelate. “We knew him because he served his congregation with love and affection. His trace was very obvious to our lives and his memory will long endure.”

The beloved cleric died suddenly on March 12, 2009 at the tender age of 52, after serving the North Andover community for six of his 17 years. Previous to this, he had served St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in Granite City, Ill. for 11 years, where he had spearheaded plans for a new $1.3 million structure.

He was in the midst of another building campaign in North Andover when he succumbed. No service was ever complete without a vote of gratitude for any of life’s many gifts. Aside from his role as pastor, he was serving as commander of the Arakadz Lodge, Merrimack Valley Knights of Vartan, prior to his death—the first time a clergyman held that role locally.

A memorial service was followed by a ceremony in the courtyard where a khatchkar was placed in Der Vartan’s memory, complemented by a photograph of him fully vested. More than 150 turned out for the event, including a large contingent from Providence, R.I., where he was raised.

Assisting Archbishop Choloyan were Rev. Vazken Bekeirian, a visiting priest from Worcester, and Rev. Karekin Bedourian, a newly ordained priest from Watertown waiting for assignment.

Pauline Kassabian and her son, Megerdich “Mgo” Kassabian, pause to reflect upon the late Rev. Vartan Kassabian in the new courtyard of St. Gregory Church in North Andover, which was dedicated in his honor March 7. Rev. Kassabian served as pastor for six years before his death last March.

Also paying their respects were the late pastor’s wife Pauline and son Megerdich “Mgo” Kassabian, a stole-bearer who assisted in the service.

“My husband had a vision to see this church refinished,” said his wife. “The courtyard would have been very special to him. We cannot stop now. It’s up to us to honor the legacy he left behind by remaining true to his church and being good Christians. Open your hearts, be there for your family and friends, and spend as much time as you can with them. They may not be there the next time you need them.”

John Kulungian, the Board of Trustees chairman, pointed to the past year as one of strength, love, hope, and compassion while the church has gone with visiting clergy each Sunday.

“This memorial provides an opportunity to forge ahead,” he said. “The fact we’re here today is a testament to Der Vartan’s life. He’s up there smiling upon us with a ray of sunshine.”

Richard Shahtanian, the Building Committee chairman, called the church renovation a symbol of everything Der Vartan stood for and represented.

“He truly believed that a newly renovated church would provide a platform for us to continue our Christian faith and help those less fortunate,” said Shahtanian. “We stand fully committed to completing his hard work.”

One of Der Vartan’s outside projects was the House of Hope, a shelter in Lowell. During his brief tenure here, he spurred the drive for food over the holidays. This past year proved the most successful ever with an outpouring of support from his community.

“He celebrated every day with love and hope,” added Archbishop Choloyan. “Der Vartan always had a way with words.”

The Prelate recalled the levity his late friend often bestowed upon his congregation.

“Whenever he saw a crowd gather in the church for a social, he called it a miracle. A second miracle was to see all those people attend a Sunday worship service.”

4 Comments on St. Gregory Church Courtyard Dedicated to Late Pastor

  1. avatar Garen Yegparian // March 10, 2010 at 6:11 pm // Reply

    It’s the least Markar deserves.

  2. avatar Vahram "Vee" Sookikian // March 10, 2010 at 6:29 pm // Reply

    Comment The first time I saw Der Vartan was also the last time.  I had gone to a special dinner meeting in Lowell to see a slide show by Joe Dadigian of his and Tom Vartabedian’s recent trip to Armenia. 

    Der Vartan started the meeting with the usual blessing but what happened next was most unusual for me.   He proceeded to lead us in singing of the Star Spangled Banner!  I was standing in the front row  and simply thrilled to be singing along with him.   He made me feel proud and happy to have made the effort to be there.    I knew him for an Hour but his enthusiasm will stay with me forever.   

  3. avatar Doreen Archetto // March 10, 2010 at 7:24 pm // Reply

    What a pleasure it was to be able to attend this memorial service last Sunday in honor of my brother-in-law, Fr. Vartan .  He was a great man and will always remain in my hearts as well as the hearts of his entire families.  It was wonderful to see so many people there on Sunday to remember him.  I am sure he is looking over everyone just like he would have if he were with us today.  We deeply miss him.  Thank you to the North Andover community for a wonderful tribute to him.

  4. avatar Janet Haroian // March 11, 2010 at 1:45 pm // Reply

    Comment:  I had been involved in an automobile accident Monday afternoon.  When my daughter saw the condition of my car at the auto body shop (totaled) and then saw the extent of my injuries (bumps, bruises with no broken bones), she commented that Der Vartan was not ready to see me yet!!  I believe that he was watching over me this past Monday as he has been watching over all of his flock this past year.  He will always remain in our hearts and memories. 

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